February 28, 2012

“Gleeman and The Geek” #30: Morneau and Mailbag

This week's episode of "Gleeman and The Geek" was recorded at Wild Boar in Hopkins and our beer of choice was Grain Belt Nordeast. Topics included the beginning of spring training, Justin Morneau's discouraging health status quotes, my ongoing car saga, Sean Burroughs' chances of making the team, John Bonnes' marriage advice, Ron Gardenhire's book, the wisdom of carrying three catchers, and a bunch of mailbag questions submitted by listeners.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 30

In addition to the direct download link above you can also subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.

February 27, 2012

Twins Notes: Zumaya, Morneau, Span, three catchers, and old friends

• It took 13 batting practice throws for Joel Zumaya to show why he was available to the Twins for a non-guaranteed, incentive-laden deal and why they were foolish not to add another setup man in a buyer's market flooded with veterans willing to sign cheaply. Zumaya felt elbow pain during Saturday's mound session, walked off with a trainer, headed to his too-familiar place in an MRI machine, and was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament.

He'll miss the entire season, his Twins career is over before it even started, and Zumaya may call it quits at age 27 following what would be his seventh surgery in five years. And it's a shame, because throughout all the injuries Zumaya never lost the ability to throw gas--he reportedly showed mid-90s velocity in the abbreviated session Saturday--and signing him to a one-year deal worth just $400,000 in guaranteed money was a smart gamble by the Twins.

Not so smart was their decision to view Zumaya as something more than a lottery ticket, but by passing on cheap, decent bullpen options like Todd Coffey, Brad Lidge, Dan Wheeler, Chad Qualls, and Takashi Saito in favor of overpaying Matt Capps and counting on Zumaya they're left with a right-handed setup man void and only in-house arms like Anthony Swarzak, Alex Burnett, Kyle Waldrop, Jeff Gray, Lester Oliveros, and Carlos Gutierrez to fill it.

Justin Morneau created a big stir last week when he showed up to spring training and gave a less than encouraging update on his now two-year-long concussion comeback. Morneau noted that he hasn't had concussion symptoms "since January." He meant that in a positive way, but that only dates back a month, and five weeks ago Morneau told Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he hadn't experienced symptoms "since December."

Asked what he'll do if the symptoms return this spring, Morneau said:

I don't think there will be a career if it's something I'm dealing with. That's the reality of the whole thing. I've kind of come to grips with that. I'm obviously not going to continue to mess around with this if it continues to be a problem. There comes a point when you can only torture yourself so long. It's something I love to do, but you keep preparing and keep being let down, that's something that nobody wants to go through, obviously.

In other words, his baseball career may very well be determined by the next six weeks.

Denard Span's own comeback from a season-ruining concussion has flown under the radar a bit compared to Morneau, but Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com reports that "he still is bothered by an occasional bad day" nine months after the initial brain injury. This offseason Span changed his diet, took up yoga, and started seeing a chiropractor, but much like with Morneau there isn't a lot he can do now besides wait and see how his brain responds to increased activities.

• As much as injuries wrecked the Twins last season, it could have been worse. Well, sort of. Jeff Zimmerman of Fan Graphs crunched the numbers and the Twins were close to the middle of the pack when it comes to total days spent on the disabled list in 2011, ranking 13th. They did, however, lead baseball in disabled list stints with 28. By comparison, no other team had more than 24 disabled list stints and the Royals only used the disabled list nine times.

• Because they didn't make any changes to the training and medical staff it's unclear how the Twins plan to achieve their oft-stated goal of keeping players on the field and off the DL more this year, but what we do know is that injury information will be disseminated differently. Last season Ron Gardenhire was often tasked with giving medical updates to reporters, which was no fun for the manager and frequently led to confusing or misleading details.

This time around general manager Terry Ryan and assistant general manager Rob Antony will take responsibility for giving those day-to-day injury updates. Ryan explained that the change is in part to "streamline the process" and in part to let Gardenhire focusing on managing. Asked if he was in favor of the change, Gardenhire said: "When he announced that, I wanted to give him a man hug. I'm happy. Yeah, that's the last thing I want to talk about is injuries."

• Bollinger reports that "the Twins are widely expected to carry three catchers to start the season." While perhaps not ideal, particularly when one of those three catchers will almost surely be Drew Butera, no one should be surprised. In fact, in projecting the Opening Day roster back in mid-December my assumption was that they'd carry Butera along with Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit. At this point I'd be surprised if they didn't.

Mauer's durability plays a big factor, as does Doumit being counted on to be the starting designated hitter. Toss in Gardenhire's longstanding fear of having to forfeit the DH role in the middle of a game if the DH is needed behind the plate and Butera's spot seems fairly safe despite his ghastly .178/.220/.261 career line in 142 games. Elias Sports Bureau found that the Twins have lost the DH spot mid-game just eight times in 10 years under Gardenhire.

• Old friend Cristian Guzman, who sat out last season, will attempt to get back into the AL Central after agreeing to a minor-league contract with the Indians. Cleveland manager Manny Acta managed Guzman in Washington and apparently talked the 33-year-old into making a comeback as a potential utility man. Guzman has hit .279/.314/.384 in 565 games since leaving the Twins as a free agent following the 2005 season, including .266/.311/.337 in 2010.

• Another old friend, Juan Rincon, signed a minor-league deal with the Angels. Rincon's four-year run as a dominant setup man tends to be overlooked--he posted a 2.93 ERA with 318 strikeouts in 319 innings from 2003-2006--but he was pretty much washed up at age 29 when the Twins released him in mid-2008 and since then has logged a total of just 66 innings with a 6.27 ERA for three different teams.

• Just a reminder: John Bonnes and I are hosting a get-together/meet-up/viewing party next Monday night, March 5 at Wild Boar in Hopkins, where we'll watch the Twins-Red Sox spring training game on television, record a "Gleeman and The Geek" podcast episode, drink beer, and talk baseball. It should be fun and if the turnout is decent we'll probably do a lot more events during the season, so come hang out.

February 24, 2012

Link-O-Rama

• There was some big news in the Twins blogosphere this week, as John Bonnes, Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson, and Parker Hageman launched a new site called TwinsDaily.com that combines their four blogs into one mega-blog and offers a platform for other writers to find an audience. I'm not involved with the site, but it's a great project and I'd encourage everyone to go hang out there (after you're done reading everything here, of course). Check out TwinsDaily.com.

• In which Craig Calcaterra reveals our private conversations and says Ronald Belisario bought drugs from my mother.

Raquel Welch has to be the best-looking 71-year-old person ever, right?

• Seems like Elijah Dukes misunderstood the whole concept of edibles.

• Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com Mila Kunis is beautiful and talented.

• Two great tastes that taste great together: Tom Scharpling and Marc Maron teamed up for a fantastic podcast that was about five hours too short.

• Twins beat writers aren't afraid to show plenty of leg at spring training.

• Sometimes perception and reality are a perfect match.

Nobody puts Niese-y in a corner.

• This week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode was taped at Smalley's 87 Club in downtown Minneapolis, which closed up shop literally a day later. And if you've listened to the episode, that probably seems fitting.

Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love, and the Wolves sing (sort of) "Tearin Up My Heart" by NSYNC:

If you can make it to the end Nikola Pekovic steals the show, as usual.

Sebastian Pruiti of Grantland broke down some video for a very detailed, interesting analysis of Love's low-post game.

"Googly oogly oogly baby!"

David Price taped a commercial with Kate Upton, but his Rays teammate Evan Longoria is dating an actual Playboy playmate, Jaime Edmondson.

• Speaking of the Rays, this is the first ballpark giveaway guaranteed to cause nightmares.

• Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Novak in the same photo.

Bob Wickman's sexiness did not come naturally.

• Hell hath no fury like a baseball writer scorned.

• Friend of AG.com and Minneapolis Star Tribune writer Phil Miller was named one of the top 10 beat reporters in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors.

Daniel Von Bargen, the actor who brilliantly played George Costanza's boss on Seinfeld and was also good in the highly underrated movie Super Troopers, attempted to commit suicide by shooting himself in the head.

• As if Louis C.K. writing and producing a sitcom for CBS wasn't confusing enough, apparently Ashley Tisdale has been cast as the star.

• One of my favorite shows, Community, is coming back on the air next month after a long layoff and threat of cancellation.

• Fear not: Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com candidate Kate Beckinsale is still great looking.

• I hope Greg Oden can find some happiness after basketball, because otherwise life isn't fair.

• And speaking of Oden's latest setback, Joel Przybilla is back in the NBA.

• Congrats to former "Gleeman and The Geek" guest Lindsay Guentzel for making the MLB Fan Cave's final 30 candidates. She's now headed to Arizona for spring training.

• Bonnes and I are planning a get-together for March 5 to watch the Twins-Red Sox spring training game on television. We'll have all the details next week on the podcast and our blogs, but in the meantime mark your calendar and start preparing your liver.

• Finally, in honor of Dukes' latest brush with the law this week's AG.com-approved music video is "Young, Wild, and Free" by Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa:

February 23, 2012

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2012: 30, 29, 28, 27, 26

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 31-35, 36-40.

30. Matthew Hauser | Reliever | DOB: 3/88 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2010-7

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2010     RK+     8      0     1.00       9.0       7      0      13      2
         A-      4      0     0.00       6.2       5      0       4      1
2011     A-     17      0     1.40      19.1      13      1      27     13
         A+     24      0     2.16      41.2      37      3      44     16

After two seasons at a junior college Matthew Hauser transferred to the University of San Diego and was mediocre as a starter, but then moved to the bullpen as a senior and worked his way into a part-time closer role with a 3.67 ERA and 37-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 42 innings. That got him taken by the Twins in the seventh round of the 2010 draft and the lack of leverage made him a cheap sign for just $45,000.

Hauser was fantastic in his 16-inning professional debut after signing, allowing one run with a 17-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and then began last season dominating at low Single-A. He quickly earned a promotion to high Single-A, finished the year at Double-A, and between the three levels he threw 64 innings with a 1.98 ERA and 75-to-29 strikeout-to-walk ratio, holding opponents to a .224 batting average and four homers.

Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report had Hauser typically throwing in the high-80s or low-90s in college, but he's added velocity as a pro and was clocked in the mid-90s at times last season. Those extra miles per hour have resulted in worse control, but he made some strides in that department late in the season and that's a tradeoff Hauser and the Twins will gladly take when he's striking out double-digit batters per nine innings.

29. B.J. Hermsen | Starter | DOB: 12/89 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2008-6

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     RK-    10     10     1.35      53.1      32      0      42      4
2010     RK+     8      6     3.32      38.0      39      2      39      4
         A-     12     12     5.00      72.0      85      6      46     15
2011     A-     21     20     3.10     124.2     131     10      81     31
         A+      5      5     4.39      26.2      34      1      20      6

When the Twins picked B.J. Hermsen out of an Iowa high school in the sixth round of the 2008 draft and gave him second-round money in the form of a $650,000 signing bonus he was touted as a power arm, but somewhere along the way he lost the ability to light up radar guns and miss bats. Hermsen stands 6-foot-6, so he certainly looks the part, but his fastball is regularly clocked in the high-80s and he's managed just 228 strikeouts in 315 pro innings.

That includes just 101 strikeouts in 151 innings between low Single-A and high Single-A last season, although the lack of whiffs didn't keep Hermsen from pitching well with a 3.33 ERA in 25 total starts. His success came from throwing strikes and limiting homers, as Hermsen allowed 11 long balls in 645 plate appearances and issued 2.2 walks per nine innings, but opponents also hit .278 off him.

Hermsen is still just 22 years old, so there might be time to rediscover the lost velocity, but it hasn't happened three years into his pro career and unless that changes--or he figures out a way to induce more ground balls to compensate--it's tough to project him as more than a potential mid-rotation starter. This season should provide a good test for whether Hermsen's now-mediocre raw stuff will get the job done against tougher competition.

28. Pat Dean | Starter | DOB: 5/89 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2010-3

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2010     RK-     4      0     0.00       5.0       3      0       5      0
         RK+     5      5     2.59      24.1      17      3      32      1
2011     A-      8      8     2.86      44.0      40      4      37      9
         A+     11     11     6.67      58.0      83      8      36     15

Like so many other college pitchers drafted by the Twins during the past decade Pat Dean got assigned to rookie-ball for his debut and predictably dominated far younger, less experienced hitters before struggling upon climbing the organizational ladder. Dean signed for $320,000 out of Boston College as the Twins' third-round pick in 2010, throwing 29 innings with a 2.15 ERA and ridiculous 37-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio between two levels of rookie-ball.

He began last season at low Single-A and continued to pitch well with a 2.86 ERA and 37-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 44 innings, but then fell apart after a midseason promotion to high Single-A. Dean made 11 starts in Fort Myers, posting a 6.67 ERA while opponents hit .332 with eight homers and his strikeout rate declined to 4.5 per nine innings. He made one late-season start at Double-A, finishing with a 5.00 ERA and 76/25 K/BB ratio in 108 innings overall.

Dean's control has been excellent and he's still young enough to get back on track, but for a 22-year-old with lots of major college experience to be knocked around by high Single-A hitters is definitely a red flag and the fact that his low-90s fastball and assortment of off-speed stuff already struggles to miss bats is especially worrisome. He looked like a potential mid-rotation starter when the Twins drafted him, but at this point that seems pretty optimistic.

27. Deolis Guerra | Reliever | DOB: 4/89 | Throws: Right | Trade: Mets

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     A+     16     15     4.69      86.1      95      6      57     25
         AA     12     11     5.17      62.2      62      4      49     17
2010     AA     19     19     6.24     102.1     127     14      67     37
         AAA     5      4     6.84      25.0      35      5      18      8
2011     AA     37     10     5.59      95.0     102     11      95     28

Four years after the Johan Santana trade Deolis Guerra is the lone player acquired from the Mets still in the Twins organization, and unfortunately he's gone from teenage phenom and consensus top-100 prospect to 23-year-old failed starter. Guerra was unnecessarily rushed by the Mets before the trade, which all but forced the Twins to do the same, and his lack of development combined with diminished velocity adds up to a 4.95 career ERA in the minors.

That includes a 5.59 ERA at Double-A last season after posting a 6.36 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A in 2010, but hidden by those ugly overall numbers is that Guerra thrived upon moving to the bullpen around midseason. As a reliever he posted a 2.77 ERA and 65-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 54 innings, which would be extremely impressive from a 22-year-old if it didn't come attached to all his previous disappointment.

Guerra threw much harder at 17 than he did at 22, but the 6-foot-5 right-hander's fastball still reaches the low-90s and his changeup remains an oft-praised pitch. Despite being younger than many Single-A players Guerra has spent two seasons in the high minors and is already on the 40-man roster, so picking up where he left off in the second half of last season could get him into the Twins' bullpen mix in a hurry.

26. Manuel Soliman | Starter | DOB: 8/89 | Throws: Right | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     DSL    14     14     2.15      71.0      66      0      55     20
2010     RK+    12     12     3.48      64.2      47      5      74     21
2011     A-     28     25     3.97     136.0     128     17     120     50

Manuel Soliman signed with the Twins out of the Dominican Republic as a 17-year-old third baseman in 2007, but shifted to the mound after hitting just .199 with a .288 slugging percentage in two summer league seasons. He experienced immediate success as a pitcher and has turned himself into a legitimate prospect, throwing 272 innings with a 3.38 ERA and 249 strikeouts through three seasons.

After overpowering the similarly inexperienced rookie-ball competition in 2009 and 2010 his rough edges were more prevalent last year, as Soliman made his full-season debut at low Single-A and walked 3.3 batters per nine innings while serving up 17 homers in 136 innings. Poor control is to be expected from a 21-year-old with his background and at first glance 17 long balls in 136 innings is reasonable, but the Midwest League as a whole slugged just .370.

Soliman has good raw stuff, with a low-90s fastball and hard slider, but the 6-foot-2 right-hander seems more likely to wind up in the bullpen long term considering his late start to pitching and lack of refinement. He'll stay on the starter track for now and likely spend most of this season at high Single-A, so don't expect Soliman to appear on the Twins' radar for a while even if things go well in Fort Myers.

February 21, 2012

“Gleeman and The Geek” #29: Pitching, Pitching, and More Pitching

This week's episode of "Gleeman and The Geek" is ridiculous and was recorded in front of an audience at Smalley's in downtown Minneapolis, with more beer than usual and several special guests. Topics included a pitcher-by-pitcher look at the rotation and bullpen, bleeping out John Bonnes' filthy mouth, projecting Francisco Liriano's future, arguing Carl Pavano versus Scott Baker, on-air hugs and popping collars, and the new mega-addition to the Twins blogosphere.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 29

In addition to the direct download link above you can also subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.

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